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Pick Your Principle

18 Feb
“My whole take on the gay rights issue, particularly gay marriage, is, let’s be honest, if you’re against gay marriage, you just don’t like gay people and you want to stick it to ’em.  And I’m not saying that I wouldn’t do the same thing if I was presented with similar opportunities.  If there was a law up for debate where it was like – ‘hey man, do you think guys that wear tight t-shirts and get bottle service at nightclubs should be allowed to own property?’ – I’d be like, “No!  @$#@ those guys!  Yeah, uh, it violates the sanctity of owning property and it says in the Bible that they’re douchebags.  Whatever I need to say so you don’t think this is coming from purely a place of hate.”

Aziz Ansari, Intimate Moments for a Sensual Evening

(warning: video contains explicit language)

Comedian Aziz Ansari. Photo by Priyanka Reddy.

Apart from its humor, what can we take from this segment of Aziz Ansari’s comedy routine?  Believe it or not, Ansari’s observation comedically expresses similar points to those made by Eric Knowles and Peter Ditto in their article Preference, Principle, and Casuistry. The joke begins with the claim that those who are anti-gay-marriage are making policy judgments based solely on their emotions – hatred, in this case.  This, according to Knowles and Ditto, is one of two ways of explaining a given policy stance and is the one favored by observers critical of another’s position.  The other stance, usually taken by the actors themselves, is that political positions are derived from moral or intellectual principles.  The actors themselves prefer this stance because “explaining one’s views in terms of principles confers an air of objectivity by omitting the self and all its many preferences.”

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Reactions to DADT Repeal

4 Feb

In his State of the Union address, President Barack Obama proudly proclaimed: “Starting this year, no American will be forbidden from serving the country they love because of who they love.”  Referencing the recent repeal of the U.S. Military’s “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” Policy (DADT), Obama expressed confidence in a relatively swift timeline for the repeal of the longstanding policy.  In the days that followed Obama’s address, multiple government officials have echoed this sentiment, eliciting praise from long-time critics of the policy.  Alexander Nicholson, executive director of Servicemembers United, the nation’s largest organization of gay and lesbian troops and veterans, commented: “Generally we are pleased with how swiftly this is moving forward.”

The rate at which repeal is ostensibly progressing is somewhat of a surprise given the strong objections to repeal voiced by members of Congress and the Military throughout the policy’s history.  The insights of system justification theory (SJT), as described by Blasi & Jost, can help explain the apparent mismatch between the vehement opposition to repeal and the complicity (and perhaps even vigor) with which it is being implemented.  By examining the public comments of one particularly strong critic of repeal, Senator John McCain, I will explain this apparent mismatch by invoking the insights of SJT and other mind science theories.

Arizona Senator John McCain

McCain has been a longtime supporter of DADT, often buttressing his stance by noting that several military leaders had also professed support for the policy.  In a 1999 interview that typifies McCain’s historical stance on DADT, McCain told the Boston Globe that he supports the policy because “Gen. Colin Powell, Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf, all of the military leaders that I respect and admire came up with this policy … They thought it was the best way to address a very difficult problem within our military.”  However, recent insights from the mind sciences suggest that McCain’s cited rationale for his policy stance may not be the true source of his policy attitude.  As Jon Hanson and Mark Yeboah note: “our reasons, far more often than we can perceive, are not connected to our behavior as much as they are rationalizations or confabulations to help make sense of that behavior.”  Sure enough, even when Powell changed his own stance on DADT, Senator McCain continued with his opposition.

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Law & Mind Blogs: Part 8

3 Feb

The internet abounds with blogs taking on topics related to the mind sciences.  One particularly impressive blog with an eye to social psychology is, well, Social Psychology Eye.

Boasting an impressive list of contributors and frequent updates, Social Psychological Eye puts a psychological spin on current events, often citing (and linking) academic articles.  Content is driven by both current news and recent studies, often using the latter to analyze the former, touching on such areas as hindsight bias, intergroup threat, and the effects of priming on political attitudes, among others.  You can follow the blog on Twitter, subscribe by email, or just visit the website.


Social Psychology Eye has good company in the blogosphere; check out several more fascinating blogs in the realm of the mind sciences after the jump.

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